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Time to raise awareness about abuse against disabled women

MEDIA STATEMENT - November 25, 2019 for International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

Time to raise awareness about abuse against disabled women in New Zealand

Disabled women face twice the rate of violence and abuse of non-disabled women. They may also find it harder to access help and be believed, says Disability Rights Commissioner Paula Tesoriero.

Ms Tesoriero says that with an increased focus and 2019 Budget initiatives to address family violence in New Zealand, the abuse and violence against disabled women and girls should be no longer be in the “too hard basket”.

“Negative attitudes towards disability and also towards women and girls is a double whammy.”

“Although today is about the elimination of violence against women, it is important to recognize that Disabled men also experience more violence and abuse than non-disabled men”.

The Commissioner has started a project to identify gaps and priority areas for action to address abuse and violence against disabled people.

“We need to better understand violence against disabled people, both in terms of data and also their stories.”

Ms Tesoriero says there’s an urgent need to act on what is already known.

“Our systems are not set up to prevent abuse or respond properly to disabled victims and this creates vulnerability.”

So does isolation.

“Some disabled people are very isolated from their families or communities, and highly reliant on just one individual.”

A disabled person may also find it extra difficult to talk about abuse for fear of losing their support or being punished for speaking up. Additional barriers may arise if people rely on support to be able to communicate or to access support or transport.

The Inquiry into the Abuse in State Care is considering historic instances of abuse, but also hearing evidence about current situations.

“Family violence and abuse prevention must include supporting disabled people and their advocates to speak up, and training people about safeguarding. Police and health professionals must take reports seriously,” says Ms Tesoriero.

A Human Rights Commission consultation in 2018 heard that accessible refuge services are needed.

Disabled women experiencing abuse in their home also have a right to stay in their own home.

“It’s hard for some disabled people to move to unfamiliar or inaccessible places; if they choose to stay in their home, they should be able to do so in safety. If they must leave quickly, they need to be able to get to a place that can take them.”

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